For the record, do not think this is a good idea. Will play along, because Dr. Croft thinks it may allow the gloomy contents of my soul to find expression. Tried to convince him that journaling is beneath me, and that journaling directly to you is the type of behavior that therapy is supposed to fix. Alas, he is too supportive to be fooled by honesty.
Will give it a try. What would you like to hear about?
Holiday spirit in the air. Am likely to choke on it. They’ve put holly and ribbons on the lampposts downtown, begun construction on the ice rink that will attract wailing sociopathic children and battered parents, brought out the seasonal coffee drinkware that excites only those too dense to realize how sad their lives must be for a paper cup to figure as a positive symbol. Walk to office is congested with merriment. Saw a man taking a picture of a horse statue in this morning’s delicate snowfall—nearly vomited.
Luckily, office remains a suitable void. Woman in 301B hung a wreath, but hallway otherwise offers the necessary comforts of bare, greige-colored walls and cost-effective lighting solutions. Your old architecture firm, which now owns the entire floor besides my room, must not invite clients inside, or they would not have clients. 302, meanwhile, is a temple of emptiness, a haven of intimate nothingness. Desk, chair, typewriter, space for little besides, window with a tedious view of alleyway. Perfect for allowing the mind to bleed out trifles, soak up vacancy, and get to work.
Do not get your undergarments in a convolution, Dean—I still have the scholarly ficus you bought for my birthday, what, a year and a half ago? It sits in the corner behind me and reaches nearly to the ceiling; have named it Shackleton. Though even now I sometimes miss the empty space he takes up, cannot deny that he brings a certain freshness to the air. Or else I am trying unconsciously and desperately to justify the extra trips to the water fountain I make to keep his soil moist. Which reminds me to sign off here and do so, or will never get around to my actual work.
One nice thing about the merry season: it invigorates the consumerist muscle. Spoke to Larry Greer yesterday afternoon—you remember my editor? Fifties glasses, sixties jeans, seventies mustache? Meek middle-aged Larry has the Senior title on his business card now, thanks in no small part to his representation of the hottest Adult (Special Interest) author currently producing. Anyway, he reports that sales of my work are up, up and away. Merry XXX-mas. That’s online and print, mind you—some of ye olde dirty magazines still produce a paper copy for today’s lusty Luddite.
Of course, print doesn’t actually pay; the majority of my revenue comes from scripts, which are mostly produced in a mansion in Los Feliz by an impresario who considers himself an auteur of avant-garde raunch. Haven’t seen any of the films—don’t care to witness a corporeally tainted presentation of my literary aesthetic. But can’t argue with the PayPal accounts of a secretive global audience. The more shameful the tastes, the higher the premiums.
None too soon for an increase on return, either. I have relatively few vices but they are expensive, as you know. What’s that? How dare you tsk-tsk me! Would you rather I went the cheap route and settled for a compromised lifestyle? I will not. Cannot, in fact—there is a boy who frequents the K Street bar who has your exact neck and nearly your jaw line. Tall, dashing in a turtleneck, a student at one of the universities I would bet. If a middle-aged piece of background music like me is to have a snowflake’s chance, will have to lay the cognac on rather thick, and he unfortunately looks to know the difference between VS and XO. Express your distaste all you want, Deany. If I may say so, you are in no position to complain. Seeing as how you are dead.
Yuletide blessings keep rolling in. Learned today that I am a nominee at the Adult Media Entertainment Awards. Four others and myself currently duking it out across the ballots of industry professionals nationwide, and only one will take home the coveted Golden Letter for Best Kink Scene, Literary. The piece in question was published just two months ago, though it was actually the first I wrote after you and I parted ways. Gloat if you want—will not deny that my feelings at the time may have leant an emotional immediacy to the prose. Of course it had to mature in my drawer for a while, during which I gained enough distance that some objectivity was possible when I pulled it out to begin editing. Now here we are—I’ll paste the cutesy insert they sent with the letter:
❦ Best Scene, Kink – Literature Category ❦
Lucas Strickland for “Campaign Tail”
Brigitte De Soto for “Night At The ICU”
Teddy Ortega for “Touched By An Angel”
Patrick Moody for “Terminal Desire”
Alana Dangerlove for “Chalk”
Have read none of the others. Do not find the work of my peers stimulating, in general, and know for a fact that Teddy Ortega, at least, is an asshole. Writes “alternative” because it is a trendy angle, is plain vanilla in thought and deed. No passion. Though suppose that’s criticism of the ad hominem variety and I should know better. (Dangerlove is the only name completely unknown to me, but I fear the choice of pseudonym tells the whole crass story.)
What’s mine about? Patrick Moody’s “Terminal Desire”? Well, if you won’t read it yourself . . . it’s about a man with a data entry job who develops an attraction to his cubemate’s desktop computer. Written a while ago, as I said—none of the flagrantly futuristic scenarios common in my recent work (not that I expect you keep up)—androids and advanced appliances and such. Think that’s what I like about the piece: how meager a substitute the miserable desktop is. The seduction takes place on nights when the protagonist works late, after everyone has gone home. Consummation occurs with the monitor, of course, which has no warmth, no points of access, no humanoid shape or texture whatsoever and certainly no convenient method of reciprocation. What could be more hopeless? Larry, of course, is beside himself. You would think we were nominated at the Oscars, not the Oscars of Weird Porn.
On an unrelated note: have been thinking about killing myself. Wanted to Tuesday, but forgot to have a means ready. Also, who would water Shackleton? Not to mention tell him dirty jokes—the only proven way to prevent his morose moods. His tastes are even darker than mine.
Also, should I get something for Robin? For Christmas, I mean. She wouldn’t have to know it was from me. She is, in some ways, the closest I can get to you now. (What poor taste, Dean! This is not the time to bring up the K Street boy.) And do not give me that sappy look; have always hated your romantic side. Has been a long time since you chose her over me. The sting is nearly gone—only a little remains in my left big toe, and even that might be the ingrown nail.
Flurries have finally led to an accumulation of pristine white powder on the ground. Vile. Saw children making snow angels on my way to the office today—should have turned back then. Continued to third floor to find that 301B’s wreath had proliferated. Hallway now splattered with garish good cheer. Was unprepared. Watered Shackleton and went home.
Incidentally, Dr. Croft has suggested I spend some time thinking about why the holiday season causes me such stress. I suggested he spend some time observing the holiday season. Remember that he is the one who originally encouraged me to address you in this journal—thank or punish him as you see fit. Do admit that journaling has been agreeable, though it takes up time I might otherwise use to further my reputation as the foremost penperson of robotic erotica. Speaking of which, must run. Have very good idea about man snowed-in with his aging, failing water heater.
Last night, engaged K Street boy in real-life conversation. Taller than I thought he was and looks, indeed, like he must spend his free time squatting refrigerators. Quite different from the scoliotic profile and nine o’clock shadow told of in your legend, though I suppose you get handicap points for being a deskbound draftsman. You did have a way with columns.
He was sitting with two other Greek statues at the bar. Took a stool beside the one beside him. Gently casted for eye contact. Nodded. Waited until he ordered his meager whiskey. Said “Good choice,” then ordered expensive version of same. “You should try this though.”
“Next one,” he said, and—commit me now, a smile?
Jumped the gun a little and ordered for him instantly. “You’ll have to let me know,” I said, “how you like it.” Retreated to nearby booth with tail curling toward knees, and put massive effort into appearing bored for a grueling half hour, and then what do you know. He slipped from the bar and walked to my table, as naturally as if it was natural.
“Preston,” he said. “Can I sit?”
“Patrick,” I said. “Please.”
“You’ve got great taste in booze.”
“I’m very spiritual.”
“Right,” he said. “Yeah. Right, I get it. Haven’t I seen you in here?”
“Oh, they keep me around to drive away the fashionable youth.”
Etcetera. Preston is a graduate student in economics, a competitive swimmer and assistant coach of the wrestling team. (God have mercy.) Two years short of half my age, but experience is a currency as much as youth, even if the exchange rate is not favorable—must say that I had gone through pains to achieve a satisfactory “rich, mysterious stranger” look. Turns out the boy and I have much in common: I’m a writer, he can read. He specializes in econometrics, I have heard of that. We both have mouths.
Said before that he has your jaw and neckline. Similarity is striking. That is the part of you I have the clearest picture of—from the last night we saw each other. That fateful, rainy Friday night; it’s hard not to romanticize. You were driving and shadow obscured most of your face, but the stretch from your shoulder to your mouth was visible in the orange wash from the instrument panel. Since it is my memory I will also add that when the headlights from a passing truck illuminated the cabin, your eyes were wet with regret. (You had just dumped me forever, you’ll recall.) Passionate Dean, you could not look at me as I got out of the car at my apartment. We did not speak, and I would bet that you did not look back as you drove away, though I stood on the porch several long minutes, watching the downpour, listening to the wind chimes a neighbor had hung, imagining how I would like to kill her with them. Then you and Robin as well, obviously.
After an hour, maybe half, conversation with Preston wilted. He slid out of the booth to rejoin his friends. Did he wink at me first? Did his hand, trembling, linger a beat long as it grazed the back of mine?
Nope. But neither did he backpedal when I voiced my hope to see him at the bar soon. For a lanky, beak-nosed mop handle that’s pretty good. By degrees, dear Dean.
Lunch with Larry today. His official congratulations on my nomination, his personal thanks for my continued use of his services. Told him no thanks necessary; no one I’d rather use. Embarrassed to admit it’s true. The man may look like an exhausted, bookish walrus, but he knows his way around high-concept smut. Great with adjectives, too, on days I find I’ve written “glistening” in every other paragraph.
Presented me with nicely bound copies of all the stories I’m nominated against—a courtesy packet from the AMEA body. Suppose it’s my duty to read them. Forgot how many titles were puns, though I’m not an innocent concerning that statistic.
Not really planning on killing myself, of course. Wouldn’t want you to worry. Yes, each day is a miserable simulacrum of the day before, and this applies to weeks and months and years as well, but in what age was it any different? And why should such a ghastly cycle serve as occasion for anything besides bemused fascination? Maybe just the mood I’m in, but the obvious appeal of suicide seems suspicious. Sure, life is awful and probably pointless. What’s wrong with that?
Dr. Croft decided today was the day to unveil a crucial aspect of his ever-evolving diagnosis. He was perched on the edge of his desk for the occasion, exuding solemnity with loafer and argyle vest. Enough degrees on the wall to keep warm for a week if you had a matchbook. He has listened to, recorded, pontificated on, researched, explored and otherwise mulled over his patient nearly a year, and has constructed an insight of such potent clarity he was forced to speak very slowly when reciting it, both times.
“Pat,” he said. (The only other person who calls me Pat is my self-doubt.) “I’ve been thinking about your stories. These, ah, tropes that crop up again and again. I think you’re trying to tell yourself something. I think there’s a reason your, ah, protagonists seek to attach only to inanimate objects.” Attach—why didn’t I come up with that?
The good doctor proposed that there might be, in my proclivity for writing about man-on-appliance sex, a signifier of deeper neurosis, of some buried emotional complex attempting to burst through the id. Discomfort with human relationships. Issues with intimacy. Pointed out that I have not had a romantic relationship since you—astonishing observation—and that I have no real friends to speak of (a disservice to Larry and Shackleton).
He’s a brilliant man. Would tell you how much an hour-long session with him costs, but you can’t put a price on wisdom. To think! All I had to do was read my own stories. The key to my psychological state, right there on the page. So obvious, you would think that I had consciously invested my work with said obsessions. Nothing slips past the keen eye of the mental health professional.
Croft has also been encouraging me to stop referring to you in the present tense. Says that it’s important to take those small steps toward “moving on,” towards dealing with loss and grief in a healthy manner, etcetera. Not sure I see the necessity of moving on. Rather—don’t believe my current mindset is necessarily unhealthy. Don’t expect you to rise from the grave, Dean. Don’t imagine that you can hear me.
Saw Preston last night. He was there alone, as luck or design would have it. Lured him to a corner table with a lavish purple cravat you would hate, kept him ensnared with conversation so stimulating he may have paid attention to some of it. Ordered a gallon of fine liqueur. Needed it myself, as K Street bar has put up their holiday decorations, obscuring the likably grim wooden walls with lurid garlands. Was like living in a German Expressionist Christmas movie.
“German?” he said.
“I sort of like the tinsel. It’s fun.”
“No one likes tinsel.”
“And Christmas movies aren’t all bad.”
“They do provide many interesting roles for women.”
Truth be told, don’t think Preston feels the sparks between us. Feel little more than soggy, misplaced pining myself. But if he is content to accept drinks while I pretend I am desirable, then another round, barkeep. He has been working furiously on his dissertation, he says, hence infrequent appearances at the watering hole. It must be excruciating to write because it is painful to hear about. Shocking what one will tolerate to remain in the company of an attractive person. Admit that my line of work also holds limited appeal. Have been coy when discussing my career with him, attempting to give the illusion that I am an important though unsung writer of an underappreciated form, with potent Hollywood connections. Which is true.
Talked for over an hour—nearly a marriage for me—and parted with cordial assurances to run into each other soon. Will cross fingers, but not on both hands. Am a consummate liar to myself but cannot believe I’m any kind of catch for him. He’ll grow bored, or smart.
Golden Letter winners will be announced on New Year’s Eve. Have now read two of the enemy stories: garbage. De Soto’s “Night at the ICU” shows some imagination with oxygen masks and wound care, but doesn’t go far enough with the healing or the hurting. Strickland’s political BDSM set piece is obvious and irredeemable. Cannot decide whether to read Ortega piece or start work on a story in which someone rapes a copy of it.
Re-read own nominated feature, surprised to find how indisputably it is a retelling of our courtship. Not sure whether you or I am the computer, but many details line up. Perhaps writing to you these past weeks has re-aligned my memory.
You were often at the office late, because you were an intolerably slow worker and also dedicated to your projects. (Horrid combination.) I was there because the silence in the evenings suited me; later because your crows’ feet were Redfordesque and you laughed at my pitiful jokes. One night, after the cleaning crew had gone, I brought you a draft to proof.
“My editor is out of town,” I said. “Would you mind?”
“Honored to help the quiet artist from 302,” you said. “Can’t say I haven’t been curious.”
Had made sure it was a temperate selection. A man and a woman, only talking. That turned out to be the whole story, in fact—remember that one? They begin an affair, but it’s exclusively verbal; they meet in public places, loudly describe the sordid things they want to do to each other, then leave separately. Verbal exhibitionists. They never touch.
You brought it back a few nights later, when the office was empty again. You knocked and made fun of my stark room, then sat on the corner of my desk.
“I wouldn’t call it clean, exactly,” you said. “No mistakes, though.”
“But what did you think?”
“Depends. What happens next?”
What happened next was that I grabbed your tie and rubbed the silk between my fingers, which remains the boldest physical action I have ever taken in my life. You didn’t flinch, didn’t storm out or apologize or ignore me forever. You leaned in so that I could reach more easily. It was the first time since college I had been that close to someone without breaking out in hives.
“I have a wife,” you said. Only a caveat.
“I bet she’s nice.”
The brilliant doctor has suggested to me that your (assumed) straightness and (clear) marital status made you technically and emotionally unavailable, and thus safe for me to fall in love with. Don’t we both know how little that mattered, whether or not it was true. Tempting to reduce a relationship to a set of circumstances, but I find that doing so tells about half a story. The other half, in this case, involved your laugh lines, the way you refused to take my permanent curmudgeonliness seriously, more and more late nights, and the gift of a ficus that I still talk to.
Admit that those two halves still don’t make a whole. Must also account for the wife that was never a fool, who figured it out in a few months and threw you from the conjugal home. Must account for how difficult it must have been for her to take you back, and for you to explain to me how so much of your life had been spent one way, it was impossible to change. Must account for those wind chimes on the porch as your taillights shrank in the rain that final Friday night.
Cannot neglect the following, tense Monday morning, the hours I dreaded your arrival at the office, the guilty pleasure I felt when you refused to show your face. Then the reveal: the audible-from-next-door outburst from your firm’s receptionist when she learned that you would not be coming in, because you had driven into a tree late Friday night (probably around the time I was fantasizing about how to murder you) and expired at St. Vincent’s on Sunday afternoon.
The money shot, as it were, would be of me: two rooms down, kneeling on the floor and shedding tears into Shackleton’s leaves. You know it’s true because I would never write something so tacky. That will have been one year ago this coming Eve’s eve. Three special days in a row.
Visited you at Rosemont Memorial Park. Someone has recently moved in next to you, and although you would be horrified by the tawdry angel statue atop the mammoth stone block, I actually believe the tastelessness of Thomas Dillon Cline’s final resting place heightens by contrast the grace of your flat marble marker. Your plot is at the bottom of a little slope, but what you sacrifice in view is made up for with proximity to a large magnolia that is rather glorious for much of the year. Right now the slithery branches are bare, flocked, and eerie.
Took pink tulips, your favorite (you fairy). Guess who arrived carrying a bouquet of same. Your lawfully widowed Robin, gray-templed, looking well despite a cliché choice of scarf. We stood for some minutes not speaking, feeling the cinematic inevitability of the moment. It was she who caught my eye, nodding towards our identical flowers.
“Makes me feel better, in a way,” she said. Meaning, I suppose, that her dead husband’s illicit gay lover at least knew what flowers to bring.
“Well,” I said. It was the first time we had ever spoken to each other. “I thought about getting something that would last longer in the weather, but, you know.”
“Don’t you think he would hate this other one? With the angel?”
“Not sure I want to talk about him.”
A few moments passed. Seems as though a single bird should have cried out, so perhaps it did. Wondered, weirdly, what she thought of my shoes.
“This tree is kinda freaky,” she said.
“Must be appalling at night.”
“More snow on the way, you know. Tomorrow.”
“Will be nice for Christmas.”
For other people, I meant, but did not say. I wanted to apologize to her for not being handsome. The possible bird cried out again.
“Anyway,” I said. Took a few steps backward. “Happy holidays.”
“You too,” she said, without turning. Looked back several times before I was out of the cemetery, but she never did.
Can almost imagine a future in which she and I are friends. Talk over coffee and croissants on your birthday, coordinate visits to the gravesite, enjoyable schlock like that. Also know that it will not happen anytime soon, because at heart I am still disposed to fantasize that you drove into that tree on purpose. That the slick road presented no challenge but you could not live with the decision you had made, and in a fit of desperation flung the wheel away like an obvious truth. Died in your hospital bed thinking of me.
Well of course it’s morbid, Dean. Have you met me? Don’t think we’re ready to let Dr. Croft in on that little nugget, either, though can’t imagine him coming up with any hypothesis more penetrating than the last. Perhaps he’ll postulate that my fantasies show a trend of self-centeredness. Perhaps I’ll ask what he thinks the point of fantasy is.
Building is empty today, but for my office. Have been unable to get any real writing done for the past two weeks; thought the magical silence of a federal holiday in the workplace might be inspirational. Alas, have spent the morning playing Hearts online and twirling in my chair.
Saw Preston at the bar last night. Fact that we were both there on Christmas Eve was a sad detail not mentioned by, nor lost on, either of us. Still so disconsolate after visiting you that I could not muster any attraction to him; consequently his vapidity shone bright enough to guide flying sleighs. My prize for losing interest, of course, was to become irresistible to him.
“You don’t seem like yourself,” he complimented. “You’re, like, down.”
“That’s what reflection does to lonely men. And ‘tis the season for reflection.”
“But you shouldn’t be sad on Christmas. Or alone.”
“I won’t argue with you.”
“I mean,” he said. His hand, not trembling, did linger a beat long as it grazed the back of mine. “I mean, you don’t have to be alone on Christmas.”
“That’s very sweet,” I said.
Neglected to turn down an invitation to his apartment. Drove as if on rails, palms getting dangerously close to glistening. Wash from instrument panel illuminated unhappy parts of my memory more than it did his boring handsomeness. The apartment was stark but tasteful, aside from a brown shag rug that needed immediate euthanasia. Stopped in kitchen for a quick bourbon, had to pretend that my need for it was not dire. Proceeded to bedroom, which had a crimson accent wall and track lighting.
Preston mentioned a quick shower, left me sitting on the bed, and left the bathroom door open a little too wide for it to have been an accident. Tawdry seduction technique. Might have had me salivating on a different night, in a different year, but felt only a knotted anxiety. Lay back, closed eyes, and was able to relax slightly—until realizing it was you I was picturing emerging from the bathroom, your pale skin red from the heat, shoulders hunched with shyness, scrawny legs in your towel.
Left while I could still hear the water running. Thought about writing a note, but didn’t want to miss the window of escape. Not sure whether it was surging self-pity or whimpering self-respect that led me outside, down to my car, and back to my quiet fortress. Probably a composite.
Will not participate in New Year’s Eve celebrations this year. Larry invited me to the company party at the Peabody downtown, but my self-loathing is not quite fervent enough for that.
Finally read the Ortega story—what I expected, more or less. (More, actually: his description of gilded angel anatomy is so heroically awful I might frame the passage for my bathroom.)
Also read the last nominee on the list, the absurdly named Alana Dangerlove’s “Chalk.” Stop the presses, Dean—it’s terrific.
About a couple who monitor police frequencies, sneak into crime scenes late at night, and copulate on top of chalk outlines. There’s no disrespect in them; these characters are not deranged. They are passionate, troubled, hopeful, and seeking, and their scenes together brought me to tears more than once. What lies at the intersection of sex and death is not despair, my dear dead Dean. It’s wonder.
Never got Robin a gift. Had decided against it after our talk, but think I’ve changed my mind. Something simple, like a scarf in fact: unoriginal but dependable. A nice lavender.
Awards announced this morning. Golden Letter went to the incomparable Teddy Ortega, as it would have to. Personally, blame the surreptitious religious guilt of the voting body. Larry called to offer his sympathies (and receive mine). Told him that if I had a vote to cast, it would have gone to Dangerlove. Plan to write her a letter, in fact. Next time I edit an anthology, want her in it.
Have started work on new piece of my own, tentatively titled “Phone Booth.” In it, intimacy occurs for the hero only when the line is ringing, and is destroyed by an answer. Not sure why—better that way. Signs and symbols, plus erections. Prose very rough so far. In fact, should go soon, before the naughty muse abandons me.
Shackleton looking very sagacious this morning. He says hello.
Have technically made it through the year. Spent the Eve at home alone. Most likely done with K Street. Need a fresher cesspool to grow in. Imagine Preston is, by now, grateful to me for helping him preserve his standards. Appears that my loneliness enters the year unscathed.
Smoked a two-hundred-dollar cigar while waiting for the cork popping moment. Meant to be awake for midnight and the actual holiday, but could not keep my eyelids up. Toasted you with a glass of red around eleven-fifteen. Could nearly make out your reply, but just at that moment the wind rose at the window and drowned you out.